Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Robotic-suit facility being built in Tsukuba

TSUKUBA —Cyberdyne Inc on Wednesday broke ground on a new lab in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, to develop a robotic suit aimed at helping people with disabilities to move their limbs. The lab will double as a manufacturing plant and is due to begin turning out 400-500 units of the suit each year from October, with annual output rising to several tens of thousands of units over the next several years, according to the technology venture founded by researchers headed by Professor Yoshiyuki Sankai of the University of Tsukuba.

Company has tied up with Daiwa House Industry Co to rent out the new product to consumers and healthcare institutions. The robotic suit is called HAL, which stands for hybrid assistive limb. It covers both sides of the user’s body and weighs about 23 kilograms. When a person tries to move his or her limbs, the brain transmits neural signals to the muscles. Sensors attached to the suit pick up weak biopotential signals that filter through the surface of the skin in the process, which in turn activate either one of the two power units for the upper or the lower body to move the wearer’s limbs in line with the muscular movements willed by the brain, the company explains.

In addition to helping people with disabilities to walk and perform other physical tasks, HAL can also be used to lighten the load on workers performing heavy manual work, a Cyberdyne official said.

The product comes with a rechargeable 100-volt battery pack that powers the suit for about two hours and 40 minutes, the official added.

Monthly rental fees for the biped model will likely be around 200,000 yen or less for health organizations and 100,000 yen or less for individual customers.

The company says that it has received inquiries about the suit from several hundred people, including muscular dystrophy sufferers.

‘‘We want to take our business worldwide,’’ says Professor Sankai, president of Cyberdyne.


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